It’s a staggering and somewhat melancholy forty years since our local corner shop/ newsagent stocked this comic:
I’d read of Marvel’s plans for a Fu Manchu title in the third issue of Foom Magazine but didn’t glimpse the finished product until the fourth-by which time the period malefactions of the Oriental fiend had been supplanted by the then-current Kung Fu media craze.
More recently, I read that Marvel’s trippy Kozmic crew were inspired by the sight of a NYC office block to craft their tale of the young philosopher/ assassin and his war against his father, the Devil Doctor. Like many of his other characters- Mar-Vell, Mantis, Kilowog and Hank Pym- Englehart was interested in the Rising and Advancing of Shang-Chi: replacing one world view with a completely different one. While perhaps a metaphor for altering one’s consciousness chemically, it’s nonetheless a laudably Aquarian ambition for “Long Underwear” creations.
I discovered the other day, coincidentally, that the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies weren’t shown on BBC tv until March 1975. Yet I must have seen the lurid and febrile Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) before that in some late night STV slot, since I knew something about the shadowy Si-Fan and its leader’s predilections for posionous reptiles, insects and killer fungus.
Compared to Ditko’s psychedelic cartooning in Dr. Strange and the rather staid Flash Gordon- stylings of Heck’s Avengers ( the first stories I ever saw as a child). Master of Kung Fu was a wildly exciting, dark , violent and modern strip.
However, since Starlin and Englehart quickly departed from the MOKF series, I lost some of my interest in the increasingly routine Chop Sockey fights. When Iron Fist (by Thomas and Kane) appeared in September ’74’s Avengers weekly , I was grabbed by this cruelly-edged, more super -heroic take on the Martial Arts genre. I didn’t really become excited by Shang’s journeys until the Bond-ian sci-fantasy of Moench and Gulacy’s Mordillo storyline.
The very first colour issue I read was bought in Stonehouse Hospital’s shop in the spring of 1977. it was a Dreaded Deadline Doom fill-in with a Gulacy reprint. The second came in a grab-bag purchased in a Morecambe newspaper & toy shop in the summer of 78. The photo-realism and the unstintingly mature espionage angle really grabbed me.
This was the first time I had seen Fu on model as Christopher Lee. I also realised that Reston was Sean Connery. Gulacy and Moench’s “Magnum Opus” featured several celebrity lookalikes, from Marlon Brando and Marlene Dietrich to David Niven and climaxed in Fu’s wild scheme to destroy the Moon.
A year or so later, my brother bought an issue in Glasgow featuring the return of the electrified Shock wave: a villain rejoicing in the faintly Steed and Mrs. Peel name, Lancaster Sneed. He also reminds me too much of Wildfire, Cockrum’s Marvel-ous transplant in the LSH.
I continued to be aware of Master of Kung Fu and its subsequent revivals- in the late 80s bi-weekly Marvel Comics Presents and the 2002 Marvel Max line. But the sequels missed something of the headiness of the first, cinematic Gulacy Era. Without the now -lapsed rights to Rohmer’s characters, Shang’s father has been recast as Zheng Zu, losing the potency of Fu but understandably so given modern cultural sensitivity.
Shang-Chi also popped up in the Ultimate Universe with a reimagined Iron Fist but neither of these modernised iterations had the vitality or strangeness of the originals.
And in 2012, Shang-Chi finally did join the Avengers as part of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers World. Like the much earlier Karate Kid in the Legion of Super Heroes, a hand-to-hand combatant doesn’t really mesh well in a large cast of superhumans and god-like aliens. However, it’s good to see a wider range of ethnicities in the grouping.
The whole issue of racial stereotyping and cariacature means that Yellow Peril villains like Marvel’s Mandarin or Doctor Who’s Celestial Toymaker are quite rightfully consigned to history. But in a way, the mythical nature of Shang-Chi’s conflict is neutered without the arch fiend Fu Manchu.
In his Lost Generation and Hidden Years series for Marvel, John Byrne simply reworked Joe Maneely’s Yellow Claw as The Claw. Perhaps Marvel might consider folding Fu and the Fu- Manque Claw into one?
Coming Soon: The Ballad of Batman.
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